Ever since Vice President Joe Biden appeared on “Meet the Press” on Sunday and described his own journey to accepting gay marriage, President Barack Obama’s campaign has been insisting that Biden’s comments are “entirely consistent” with Obama’s own position on the issue. The vice president’s office also walked back the statements, clarifying that Biden was saying that gay married couples in states that allow it should have the same rights as straight married couples.

The vice president’s exact words to David Gregory were: “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women  marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are  entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil  liberties. And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction—beyond  that.” (See his full comments here.)

Some of the top gay rights advocacy leaders in the country are skeptical, however, that Biden wasn’t advocating the legalization of gay marriage in full. Biden was endorsing the legal right for same-sex couples to marry, they say, something that Obama has stopped short of doing as president. And the effort to walk back Biden’s comments could backfire.

The president says he supports civil unions but not civil marriage for same-sex couples, although he has indicated that his views are “evolving.” (As a state senator, he supported gay marriage.)

Some advocates told Yahoo News that Obama surrogates endorsing gay marriage is a way for the campaign to “wink” at second-term support for the policy without taking the political risk of outright embracing gay marriage in an election year. Mitt Romney has said he would pass a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and appoint judges who oppose gay marriage, placing himself far to the right of Obama, who helped end the military’s ban on openly gay service and abandoned the Federal Defense of Marriage Act. But despite this gulf, both candidates oppose gay marriage—an uncomfortable fact when it comes to rallying the Democratic base or fundraising from passionately pro-gay rights donors.